It places an emphasis on more vulnerable elders who face multiple barriers that can aggravate economic insecurity, social isolation, and various health challenges related to aging. Yet strangely, despite ample evidence of their heightened vulnerability and their need for unique aging supports, LGBT older people are invisible in this landmark law. As the OAA comes up for reauthorization, and as millions of LGBT people enter retirement age, Congress should ensure that the OAA supports all elders, including those who require unique supports. LGBT older adults should be written into the framework of the Older Americans Act.
As the number of Americans age 65 and older surges over the next few decades, the number of LGBT older adults is estimated to double to at least 3 million by 2050. As with other marginalized communities, LGBT older adults face significant barriers and profound disparities that place them in great social need. The available research shows that LGBT elders have fewer sources of support as compared to their heterosexual peers. They also face higher poverty rates and experience poor health and health access.
In addition, many LGBT elders enter the aging system with the harmful physical and emotional health effects of having lived through a lifetime of discrimination. Because of these profound challenges, LGBT older adults require unique services—yet these supports are scarce and severely underfunded throughout the country. Many LGBT elders live in areas that lack any vital, LGBT-affirming service that can improve their economic security, social support and overall health and well-being.
Further, while many Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) are willing to offer LGBT cultural competence training to their staff, very few offer LGBT-specific programs or outreach. Less than half of these agencies report they would be able to offer or fund LGBT-specific services. More broadly, there is insufficient research on the needs of LGBT older people, the programs that could reduce these disparities, and whether aging providers are effectively serving our communities. Funding is needed for these interventions.
A Bill for LGBT Elders in the OAA. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) has introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012, which would have amended the OAA to address the concerns noted above and provided equal treatment of LGBT older adults. If enacted, the bill would have done the following:
- Include LGBT older adults as a vulnerable population with greatest economic and social need as a result of a lifetime of discrimination;
- Permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, the country's first and only technical assistance resource center aimed at improving the quality of services and supports offered to LGBT older adults;
- Improve data collection and analysis on the effectiveness of the state units on aging and the AAAs in targeting services to LGBT older adults; and
- Prioritize research and development grants for organizations working to improve LGBT health, long-term care needs, and access to culturally responsive services.
Support from the Aging Network. In April 2011, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), a consortium of more than 65 leading aging organizations, approved eight LGBT-friendly recommendations in its consensus document for OAA. And in July 2012, the Administration on Aging (AoA) issued guidance to aging providers around the country clarifying that "greatest social need" could include LGBT older people in population definitions related to service planning. Read the historic LCAO document on OAA and the recent guidance from AoA.
To learn more about the Older Americans Act and LGBT Older Adults, please contact Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, at 212-741-2247 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see what events are coming up at SAGE, visit our calendar.
U.S. agency: Older LGBTs a population of 'greatest social need
SAGE and HRC Applaud the Obama Administration for Taking Steps to Improve the Health of all Older Americans
The Administration on Aging issues guidance to the Aging Network allowing them to define populations of greatest social need based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Leadership Council of Aging Organizations Issues Official Document on Older Americans Act-Supporting LGBT Elders in Reauthorization
LCAO's consensus document on Older Americans Act includes eight recommendations to improve aging services offered through OAA for LGBT older adults and other diverse elders.